Spectrum Dance Theatre’s “Studio Series”
at Madrona Dance Studio
1 December 2006
by Dean Speer
Spectrum Dance Theatre seems to have settled into a working rhythm with its new Artistic Director Donald Byrd. Audiences at first were puzzled by the changes in Spectrum’s repertory – from nearly exclusively jazz, to something else. That something else has proven to be a repertory based on the work of Byrd, supplemented with commissions of new pieces by both established and up-and-coming choreographers.
The other welcome change is that the overall style of the company has jelled and its technical level risen. Dancers were consistently fabulous throughout the performance. There was a transition period where these were uneven, so it was most pleasing to see the barre pushed higher. Artistically, I had the distinct sense that the dancers knew what they were about, were comfortable with that, and then took that sense – as a tool – and used it to extend themselves with their interpretations.
This was the case for the first installment of its 2006-07 “Studio Series.” Held in its home on Seattle’s Lake Washington [a former bathhouse, converted to two dance studios in the early ‘70s], the rows of patrons and Spectrum supporters – and the curious, were treated to four works. Two by Bryd and one by Thaddeus Davis and one, a premiere, by PNB’s Olivier Wevers.
Davis’ “Tantric Voices” opened the bill. It was like watching a William Forsythe piece, but without the pointe shoes, specifically, his “In the Middle, Somewhat Elevated.” Part of this was the costume but mostly it was the bracing movement palette. Stark and edgy, with small groupings of duos, trios, solos, it packed a lot of punch that was non-stop for its ride. About 40 minutes of go, go, go.
The program notes suggest that Byrd’s “I’ve got the Wilis” is humorous. I found it anything but. Creepy, weird, and certainly macabre but not funny in the least. Yes, some of the audience giggled and I hope this was merely a nervous reaction. Peeled to the bones of the “Giselle” story, three Wilis and their leader torment a man and Giselle does plead for him but this vision takes the intent of the Wilis to their cruel end, with the man dying and Giselle remorseful, but who goes off to join the ravenous pack. Byrd’s motif included jerky movement and shaking – all the more unsettling as it gave you the impression they were resisting a pre-determined future not of their own making.
“White Man Sleep” is probably the best ‘serious’ Bryd work I’ve seen to date. Presented as an excerpt, it was two solos, one stationary, one traveling. David Alewine was the seated soloist (it’s a chair piece). A deep response to Bryd’s personal experience of the events of 9/11 (he lived only four blocks away from the World Trade Center), Alewine’s solo was the most disturbing, while Hannah Lagerway’s solo was a vision of a troubled person, but of one who is not necessarily on the edge as the man.
Wevers’ “crowded murmur...thoughts” demonstrated Wevers’ choreographic growth and was an excellent premiere, although it needs some reworking – mostly it could be more spare, as I found it somewhat over-choreographed (something easy to do, as it’s very tempting to put in every development that seems appropriate). A specific suggestion would be to either nix the dancers making aural sounds [this is the murmur of the crowd] as in any larger venue they probably couldn’t be heard and it was hard to see what their faces were doing (I was in the front row), or to have them do this as group via a crowd scene at the start of the piece, before the music kicks in and then segue into the dance and its accompanying music.
Very musical in its adaptation and bestowal of movement ideas in relation to the allegro section of Mozart’s Violin Concerto No. 3, in G, K. 216, Wevers gave us the dance of the evening that most balanced “light” with “serious.” I was very pleased to see the dancers looking happy doing Wevers piece. You could tell not only by their faces but also by the good cheer in their bodies and movements. Sometimes dancers can be unintentionally scary (think expressions as if their leotards are too tight) and it was nice having a sunny conclusion to the program.
All of the dancers deserve applause and a handful special mention: Allison Keppel who has line, extension and technique to burn; Peter deGrasse (the hapless Wilis victim) who well couples drama and dancing; and the elegant Joel Myers, who came to Spectrum last year via yeoman’s work at Evergreen City Ballet.
Spectrum is once again finding its Seattle dance niche and Byrd’s programming of both “main” stage seasons and “off” stage seasons seems to be the right mix now for its continued health and artistic success in 2007 and beyond.